An American Crime

2007

An American Crime (2007)

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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

A seemingly ordinary housewife and the mother of seven, imprisons a beautiful teenager, who has been left in her charge, in the basement of her Indiana home.

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Cast

Catherine Keener
as Gertrude Baniszewski
Ellen Page
as Sylvia Likens
Ari Graynor
as Paula Baniszewski
Nick Searcy
as Lester Likens
Michael O'Keefe
as Rev. Bill
Romy Rosemont
as Betty Likens
Jeremy Sumpter
as Coy Hubbard
Evan Peters
as Ricky Hobbs
Bradley Whitford
as Prosecutor
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Critic Reviews for An American Crime

All Critics (14) | Top Critics (3)

An American Crime, wonderfully mounted, wholly absorbing, is also full of blank uneasiness.

Jan 4, 2018 | Full Review…

Tragic tale of child abuse fails to make any sense of the crime.

Jan 19, 2007

Not even the considerable talents of lead thesps Catherine Keener and Ellen Page can alleviate the artistic nullity that is An American Crime.

Jan 18, 2007
Variety
Top Critic

By instead focusing more on the character of Gertrude Baniszewski, the film relegates Sylvia Likens to a cypher with no real identity - she's simply a vessel for abuse.

Sep 2, 2010 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Um projeto que encara a desgraça alheia como mero trampolim para o entretenimento.

Aug 22, 2008 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…

If Eli Roth were to direct a Lifetime movie, it might look something like An American Crime.

Aug 18, 2008 | Rating: 0/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for An American Crime

three stars

MisterYoda ?
MisterYoda ?

Super Reviewer

Based on a true story from the 1960s this film tells the tragic tale of a young girl being tortured and held captive by a family for a months. Setting the court hearings as the frame for the reconstruction of the terrible events the film does never show the cruel details of young Sylvia's misery, which doesn't lessen the more and more disturbing and gloomy impact on the viewer. The main perpetrator, Catherine Keener as a mother who's in over her head with six kids and no money, does not start out as a bad person, just someone who is slowly losing control over her life and her kid's future. How things could go so dire so quickly remains somewhat unexplained, which only increases the horror. Much scarier than the mum's horrible actions are all the people looking the other way or joining in because they are told to. The acting is accordingly intense. Only the dream sequence towards the end aims for cheap horror thrills and doesn't do justice to the film and the case. No fun film my any means, but a gloomy yet somewhat superficial look at the unexpected horrors behind family doors. For evil to succeed all it takes is good to look the other way.

Jens S.
Jens S.

Super Reviewer

½

Being always curious to watch movies based on true story, it was but obvious that I was compelled to watch this movie. I read a part of the plot and then decided to go for it to know what happened to that girl (Sylvia Likens), why she suffered, how much and how long. Of course, this wasn't a documentary, so I didn't expect the exact depiction of the real life story. Yet it provided a generous amount of info, including a part of court transcriptions, about this tragic event. R.I.P. Sylvia Likens & R.I.H. all those who tortured her. [R.I.H. = Rot In Hell (just made it out; ain't sure whether such abbreviation exists currently.)]

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

I think the most interesting thing about this film is the title. I think about the juxtaposition of two disparate ideas: first, America is a country that prides itself on its celebration of rugged individualism, and many of the stories (true and apocryphal) about its foundation debate the relationship between the individual and the state (yes: Glenn Beck has no original ideas; everything he says has been said since the time of America's founding). Second, the "American" crime depicted in this film is the direct result of groupthink and mob mentality, essentially the surrender of individual morality and thought to that of a group. So by calling the abuse of Sylvia Likens a typically American event, is the film denying one of America's definitive stories? I would find this remarkably interesting, and combined with the remarkable performance by Catherine Keener, a consistent thesis along those lines would make an intelligent, engaging film. But there is a key scene toward the end - a narrative trick that's supposed to be clever and effective (it isn't) - that denies the thesis: a key character, who demonstrates pathetic gullibility and performs one of the most despicable acts of abuse, undergoes a dramatic reversal and thinks for himself. But this moment of self-determination is only part of a trick, and we later discover it didn't even happen. The film thus sacrifices consistency of message at the altar of thinking itself cool. Also, I was disappointed in Page's performance. She was remarkably convincing and heart-rending during the torture sequences, but her pre-tortured Sylvia is a bland, ever-smiling mask. As I said earlier, Keener is amazing. She finds humanity in Gertrude's moments of abuse that a lesser actor would've played in a sadistic impersonation of Hannibal Lecter. Overall, An American Crime is a disappointment because it fails to understand its own content.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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